Art Auction Primer

Choosing an auction

Once you have evaluated the art and have determined that it has auction value, the next step is to choose the auction to sell the piece. The choice of auction will have a significant influence on the selling price of the art. Choosing the wrong auction at the wrong time can result in no sale at all or a sale at a very disappointing price.

Generally speaking, the more prestigious the auction house, the higher the price you can expect to receive for your work. However, in order for Christie's or Sotheby's to have interest in handling the work, the piece must be a nationally-recognized artist with some auction history – especially history with the auction house. If the piece is not of this quality, then you will have to select a secondary auction house to handle its sale.

If the artist has little or no auction history, then selling your work at any art auction becomes very problematic. So in your initial research on the art, you may have found auctions who have sold the artist in the past. If an auction has sales history with a specific artist, then it is very probable that they would be interested in representing this work, and they probably also have collectors who are interested in buying the artist. If the pieces they have sold previously are similar to yours, then it gives you a fairly good estimate in what your piece will sell for. Every auction and every piece of art is different, but this is the best indicator of sales value.

For some artists who have regional reputations and regional collectors, an auction that specializes in pieces from this region may yield superior performance than even the national auctions. For example, Louisiana artist George Louis Viavant painted wonderful pictures of Louisiana swamp birds and animals. Because of his association with Louisiana, a seller will probably have more success selling the work in New Orleans than in New York. Again, this conclusion should be substantiated with initial research.

With the development of national and international online auction bidding services such as LiveAuctioneers and ArtFact, even small regional auctions can attract buyers from all over the globe. So when considering regional auction houses, it make sense to choose one that is affiliated with one or more of these services. Obviously, the greater the group of bidders, the higher the probability of securing a high price for the work. Also, having a large contingent of bidders outside of the auction house discourages possible collusion among live bidders.  

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